BRADENTON -- The Bradenton communities of Norma Lloyd Park, Citrus Meadows Apartments, Manatee Trailer Park and Manatee Palms are where Bradenton police Patrol Officer Eleazar Garcia is trying to make a daily difference.
It's an area that has been tarnished by crime, but Garcia, who loves watching superhero movies like "Avengers" on "popcorn and movie" nights at home with his wife, Brenda, and sons, Matthew, 12, Nathaniel, 10, and Thomas, 8, is attempting to bring some relief.
"He's an asset to have," Bradenton police Lt. James Wilkinson said of Garcia, who will mark 11 years with the department on May 16. "He's seasoned and bilingual and works well with the community."
Wilkinson confirmed that Garcia, who started in patrol, moved to narcotics and is now back in patrol, doesn't have superhero powers, but does have exceptional human ones.
"I'll put it this way," Wilkinson said. "I served in the U.S. Marines and I would want him beside me if I was in a fighting hole about to run up a hill."
Garcia, 36, a veteran who served in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, rewarded those who have confidence in him on March 20 with an effort that has earned him the April 2014 Bradenton Police Department Officer of the Month and a Herald "Hero" commendation.
At 9:30 that morning Garcia was patrolling in the 2200 block of Sixth Avenue East, in the area of Manatee Trailer Park which has reported numerous day-time residential burglaries and multiple rob
beries, Wilkinson said.
Garcia saw two boys. He could have chosen to ignore them. He didn't.
"I thought, "Why aren't they in school?'" Garcia said. "These boys were, I would say, between age 12 and 14. I knew they didn't belong in the neighborhood at that time."
Garcia began to walk toward the boys, mainly to just ask them why they weren't in school. They youths tried to avoid the officer.
As he got closer, Garcia saw the top of an ammunition magazine clip sticking out of the shorts of one of the boys. At that moment, Garcia called for back-up and went for the youth with the gun, watching the other boy run away.
"Actually, at that moment, what kicks in is more training than fear," said Garcia, who has trained with SWAT teams and mastered infantry tactics in the Army. "You just react to it."
The boy with the gun had little chance to out run Garcia who was most valuable performer for the Las Serna High School cross country team in Whittier, Calif., in his sophomore year.
The weapon turned out to be a loaded .40 caliber handgun, according to a police report on the incident.
"He kind of said that he stole the weapon from his brother, who was in the military," Garcia said of the juvenile. "I handcuffed him."
The boy also was carrying .7 grams of marijuana, according to the report.
The juvenile was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a minor and possession of drugs, the report states.
The other boy was apprehended by Garcia's backup and was charged with loitering, according to the report.
Garcia, who grew up in Whittier after moving to the United States from Mexico when he was 15, said that he tries to reach out to youths he meets on the streets. But he can't talk much during a crime.
"I try not to simply because it happens fast," Garcia said. "But I do talk to them on the streets. I'll say, 'What's up?' Lately, some of these kids we are seeing are 12 to 14."
Seeing that crime has swallowed some youths around the age of his own boys has made Garcia aware of how important parental guidance can be.
"I try to teach them right from wrong," Garcia said of his three boys. "I try to guide them to provide direction. I know that anything can happen. I want to teach them right before they get into a situation. But I can only pray they do the right thing."
The Garcia family attend Bible Baptist Church on Morgan Johnson Road in East Manatee, not far from where they live.
"Officer Garcia's pro-active patrolling tactics led to the arrest of two subjects and may have prevented a violent crime from occurring," Wilkinson said.
Garcia said he's not a hero. He says it's all in a day's work.
"I'm just trying to do a good job everyday and come home safe," Garcia said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.